Beirut publishes… / وبيروت تطبع

Course: ENGL 292
Term: Spring 2016
Instructor: Dr David Joseph Wrisley @DJWrisley
American University of Beirut

As the old adage goes, “القاهره تكتب و بيروت تطبع و بغداد تقرأ [Cairo writes, Beirut publishes, Baghdad reads].”

This is a spatial humanities project planned for a literature capstone course in the Department of English in the Spring 2016 semester.   It explores the spatio-temporal dimension of print culture in Beirut over the last century as well as its connectivity to the rest of the (Arab) world. It takes some of its inspiration from the recent attempt to map publishing and book selling in Cairo, but our project will the cultural and historical evolution of the industry linking it to literary, cultural and political events. Students will extract data from archival materials, interview local booksellers and publishers, as well as build a “thick map” of both existing and bygone booksellers/publishers in the Beirut metropolitan area. By mapping such a landscape, students will be encouraged to think about gentrification, the delocalization of cultural spaces and the rise of electronic publishing in the Arab world. The course will host local speakers (activists, publishers, booksellers).

One of their substantive pieces of written work will concern the theory and practice of mapping print culture alongside an analysis of elements of the common dataset.  The class project will be to build a spatial narrative with time slider and filters out of our common dataset, akin to this one about vinyl record stores in Paris.


February 2016: 
data collection and metadata design
March-mid April 2016: data collection continues and initial maps
late April 2016: student papers and maps based on the common dataset
May 2016: dissemination, conference poster session


Map 1 shows progress in our two pronged data collection process (mobile data collection in purple and green; with archival research in red and orange)


We are interested in correlating data with historical maps of Beirut.  The dataset represented below collapses different periods from 1948 to the present.  Maps 2, 3 and 4 are for mock purposes only.

Map 2 shows the same preliminary data as Map 1, but overlaid on a georeferenced map representing the growth of the municipality of the city of Beirut since 1840 (taken from the architecture project “Beirut: From City of Capital to Capital City” by Yasmina al Chami). The map legend at left indicates years of expansion (from darkest to lightest) “up to 1840, 1876, 1921, 1935, 1950, 1967”).


Map 3 shows the same preliminary data as Map 1, but overlaid on a georeferenced map representing the city of Beirut, locations of churches and mosques and relative densities of Christian and Muslim populations taken from Rasha Sukkarieh’s In-Between Realities project at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (the original visualization is Youssef Doueihy’s 2007 work The Lebanese 1907-2006 : confessions, religions and demography distribution). The original legend indicating confessional distribution at upper left is a color ramp, darker brown indicates higher concentration of Muslims and darker green indicates a higher concentration of Christians.

Map 4 shows preliminary data of current bookstores and publishers overlaid on a 2014 RAMCO published map showing the average cost per square meter of a first-floor apartment in Beirut.